House Dems step up rhetoric on education funding
Members of the House Democratic Caucus are vowing to protect school funding in the budget prior to next month’s vote. Education remains a point of contention in Gov. McDonnell’s 2012 biennium, with the overwhelming majority of new money going into Virginia’s retirement system instead of into the classroom.
Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) spoke on Monday about the stress VRS and other policy changes will have on Virginia’s municipalities. “In an analysis done for local governments to determine the cost of re-benchmarking, it is estimated that half of local governments will need to increase the real estate tax by at least two cents to make up the difference, and in seven localities the increase would be five cents of the real estate tax rate,” said Del. Plum. “And under the governor’s plan, local governments will have to greatly increase their contributions to VRS – further limiting monies available for the classroom.”
In a floor speech Wednesday, Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) explained how voucher-type programs – such as HB321 and other measures that may make it into the final budget – hurt the Commonwealth’s world-class K-12 education system. “We would be potentially sending $25 million to private institutions, which takes money from the general fund that would otherwise to go public schools,” remarked Del. Herring. “It seems to me we should be helping the greater mass of students that sits in our public schools today.”
On Thursday, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) rose to speak about cost-of-competing cuts built into the budget. These crucial funds are given to school districts to level the playing field for school support staff in regions with a higher cost of living.
Explained Del. Filler-Corn: “Even with the cost-of-competing adjustment, salaries for teachers and support personnel remain well below what is often paid in Northern Virginia, Central Virginia, and other localities. By reducing this funding in the budget, these jurisdictions would lose million of dollars and their ability to attract the best and brightest.”
Finally, on the floor Friday, Democratic Caucus Chair Mark Sickles (D-Franconia) highlighted stories from newspapers across the Commonwealth about local school districts affected by the lack of new education funding. School boards from Lynchburg to Virginia Beach to Richmond to Augusta have expressed extreme frustration and concern about the mandates being placed upon them by changes to VRS.
House Democrats will continue to fight for education funding in Gov. McDonnell’s budget as the General Assembly prepares for a final vote in March.